In first place, 6-2 Giants won't rest on success


In first place, 6-2 Giants won't rest on success

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) Tom Coughlin isn't ready to relax now that the Super Bowl-champion New York Giants have reached the midpoint of the season with a 6-2 record and a 2½-game lead in the NFC East.

The truth is the Giants have a lot to worry about. Forget their current four-game winning streak. If anyone doesn't believe that, all they have to do is watch Sunday's 29-24 win over the Cowboys in Dallas.

It was a typical game for the Giants.

Instead of rallying for a win, they squandered an early 23-point lead and survived a Tony Romo-led comeback by the length of a Dez Bryant finger, the one that landed out of bounds with 10 seconds to play to nullify a potential game-winning touchdown.

It was that close, which is the story this season.

While the Giants were impressive in beating Carolina and San Francisco, they rallied from 14-point deficits against Tampa Bay and Cleveland, needed a 77-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Victor Cruz with 73 seconds to go to edge Washington and escaped Dallas by the skin on Bryant's hand.

If that isn't convincing enough, let's remember last season. New York went 6-2 in the first half and then opened the second half with losses to San Francisco, Philadelphia, New Orleans and Green Bay. The team needed a six-game winning streak at the end of the season to win their second Super Bowl in five seasons.

Coughlin knows things aren't going to get any easier with Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Green Bay, Washington, New Orleans, Atlanta, Baltimore and Philadelphia on tap down the stretch.

"It's a huge plus to be where we are," Coughlin said. "We've battled back from being 0-2 in the division to being 2-2 in the division. We know how difficult this league is. We know how difficult these games are that we play and our divisional opponents play week in, week out. It's not easy to win in this league. There is tremendous parity.

"We have to keep going. We have a really tough opponent (Steelers) coming in this week. It just gives you another something to improve on."

The problems are obvious. The offense is settling for too many field goals - five against Dallas - and the running game has been inconsistent. The defense has given up a few too many big plays and has not generated a consistent pass rush.

Safety Stevie Brown, who had two interceptions and a fumble recovery Sunday, said the players realize they aren't hitting on all cylinders.

"We've got to keep working," Brown said. "We've got to stick with the fundamentals that have got us to 6-2 and we've got to just keep coming out every game with the hunger that we still have something to prove and that we're trying to get better every single week.

"If we continue to do that, we should be fine."

Coughlin was a little upset when asked about last year's losing streak, a run that was marked by three tough losses to very good teams.

"There is nobody looking at this as anything other than what it is," he said. "We're very happy to be 6-2. We have a long way to go. We have a lot of work to do to beat a team (Pittsburgh) that we want to beat. While it is nice to put that number up there at this point in time, what is significant is how we continue to grow and grow."

The only other issue Coughlin had with the game was the final 10 seconds after a review overturned Bryant's catch, which had been ruled a touchdown on the field. The Cowboys managed to get off three more plays and Coughlin wondered aloud how that could have happened.

"The longest 10 seconds I have ever been around," Coughlin said. "Three plays in 10 seconds, two of which went to the end zone. It seems a little much to me and we'll have to see if we can get some kind of response from the league."

Coughlin does not believe that he could get and execute three plays in 10 seconds.


NOTES: Coughlin had no further information on the hamstring injury suffered by middle linebacker Chase Blackburn, the hamstring injury sustained by linebacker Keith Rivers or the ankle injury suffered by tight end Bear Pascoe. .... Coughlin gave his players off Monday so they could make preparations at home to handle Hurricane Sandy. The coach is adjusting the team's schedule for this week, treating Sunday's game against the Steelers like a Monday night game. That means they will have to worker a little harder the rest of the week. ... Brown on waiting for the hurricane: "It's not fun. I'll tell you that. I'm from the Midwest. We don't have hurricanes, so this is all new to me. I have friends in the city and one of them is from Miami and she was like, 'This is nothing, Stevie. Don't even worry.' I'm just like I don't know. This isn't what I like."


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Is Juan Soto a lock for National League Rookie of the Year?

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Is Juan Soto a lock for National League Rookie of the Year?

In April, it would have been unfathomable. In May, it would have been laughable. In June, it would have been improbable. In July, it started to look possible. In August, it might even have been likely. Now, it’s a complete toss-up.

Juan Soto is the worthiest National League Rookie of the Year. So is Ronald Acuna.

It’s one of the most exciting rookie races in recent memory, not simply for the otherworldly numbers each freshman sensation is putting up, but for just how good they are at such young ages. Juan Soto is a jaw-dropping 19. Acuna, by comparison, is the wizened veteran at the old age of.. 20. 

The two are preternaturally talented, and their mature-beyond-their-years games have translated perfectly well to the big leagues. The question now is: which one will actually take home the hardware?

(Before we continue, I’ll note that Jack Flaherty, Brian Anderson, and Walker Buehler are all very talented young players who would at least be in the conversation in normal years).

The first step is to look at the numbers.

On the season Acuna is slashing .287/.347/.571, and his wRC+ is 144. He’s got 19 home runs and 8 stolen bases in just 68 games and his fWAR is 2.3. bWAR has him at 2.8

Soto’s slash line is currently .293/.420/.534, to go along with 15 home runs. His wRC+ is 153, and his fWAR is 2.7. His bWAR sits at 2.2.

Obviously, the numbers are terrific for both. Acuna has been up longer, but thanks to injury Soto has actually played 8 more games. Acuna has the edge in power, both in home runs and slugging percentage, plus he’s clearly the speedier player and better defender. If you’re looking for all-around game, he’s probably your man. Plus, for those who care about such things when voting on awards, the Braves are several games ahead of the Nats in the standings.

However, Soto’s performance has a couple things going for it. First of all, as impressive as it is that Acuna is taking the league by storm as a 20-year old, Soto is nearly a full year younger. It cannot be overemphasized how wild it is what Soto is doing as a teenager. He may very well be the greatest teenage batter in baseball history.

Secondly, Soto has been incredibly consistent. He’s basically been an All-Star level hitter since the day he was called up in May, whereas Acuna’s numbers, while very legitimate, are buoyed by his recent hot streak. He’s hit 8 home runs in 8 games, and of every hitter with at least 100 plate appearances since the All-Star Game, he has the highest wRC+ in that span. He’s had plenty of valleys to his peaks, though, and Soto has been a model of consistency. Of all hitters with at 200 at-bats this entire season, Soto ranks 7th over the entire season, That’s astounding.

Another point in Soto’s favor is just how historic his numbers are. Voters love a narrative, and as mentioned above, Soto is having literally the best offensive season a teenager has ever had. The highest wRC+ by a 19-year old in baseball history in Mel Ott with a 140 exactly 90 seasons ago. Soto is beating that by 13 so far.

The true separator, though, is Soto’s on-base percentage. His .420 mark is a comfortable 4th of all players with at least 300 plate appearances, behind elite batting eyes Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and Joey Votto. And, once again, we’re talking about something historic.

Soto’s .420 on-base percentage, if it holds, will be the only OBP over .400 for a teenager with 200 plate appearances in Major League history. In fact, outside of Ott’s .397 in 1928, no other teenager has ever reached base at a .360 clip, let alone Soto’s astronomical .420.

Ultimately, I believe more in Acuna’s future, but I think Soto’s been the better player this season. Acuna is more well-rounded, but Soto’s elite batting eye has made him a top 10 hitter in baseball already. If Soto had been up on Opening Day and played at this level, he’d be on pace for a 5.5 WAR, which would top even Bryce Harper’s 2012 season.

As mentioned, voters love a narrative though, and if Acuna comes back from his injury and stays as hot as he’s been all August, it’ll be tough to ignore his performance during the Braves’ stretch run. This award is not over, but for now, Soto should be considered the favorite.


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Need to Know: Redskins stock up, stock down after Jets game

Need to Know: Redskins stock up, stock down after Jets game

Here is what you need to know on Friday, August 16, seven days before the Washington Redskins host the Broncos in their third preseason game. 

Talking points

Here are some players who saw their stock go up during Thursday's preseason game against the Jets and others who experienced a stock drop

Up—Rookie nose tackle Tim Settle had himself another big game. The difference this time was that most of his snaps came against the Jets starting offensive line as opposed to the Patriots’ backups he saw last week. He mauled ex-Redskins center Spencer Long a few times and he moved over to tackle in a four-man front to generate some pass pressure. He is still learning. 

Down—Backup center Tony Bergstrom was physically manhandled a couple of times, making things difficult for Colt McCoy, some running backs, and Kevin Hogan. He also committed a flagrant holding penalty that negated a good Hogan run for the first down. His roster spot does not appear to be in any danger, but he has to do better.

Up—Cornerback Danny Johnson had some pressure dropped on him when the team cut Orlando Scandrick, moving Johnson from roster long shot to a player who may have to be counted on. He played well, making a key play in the second quarter. On third down, he made a good tackle to stop a third-down play short of the sticks. He knocked the ball out of the runner’s hands, but a quick whistle negated the turnover. 

Up/Down—Wide receiver Cam Sims had some wild swings. In the second quarter, he was open in the red zone and McCoy put a perfect pass into his arms. But the ball popped out and was intercepted. Turnovers will get rookie free agents cut. Sims made up for it later in the game with a key third-down catch later in the second quarter. Later, in the last seconds of the game, he pulled in a 20-yard pass to set up Dustin Hopkins’ game-winning field goal. In between, he grabbed a touchdown pass between two defenders, but that play was negated by an illegal formation penalty. 

Down—You hate to see a player’s stock go down due in part to an injury, but that’s what happened with Byron Marshall. Even though he is OK, he left the game early, opening the door for Kapri Bibbs, his main competition for the fourth roster spot at running back, to have a good night. Bibbs caught seven passes for 47 yards. Before he left the game, Marshall put the ball on the ground on a kickoff return. Although replay showed that he was down by contact before fumbling it was close enough to cause concern. The competition for the fourth running back spot is tighter now than it was before the game. 

Up—Rookie safety Troy Apke had three tackles and he picked off a fourth-down Sam Darnold pass. Deshazor Everett gets an assist on the pick as he batted the pass up in the air. Apke is still has a lot to learn before he makes the transition from being a fast guy to being a good NFL player. 

Down—Linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton had a chance to make a key third-down sack off Teddy Bridgewater that would have killed a fourth-quarter drive. But he went to the ground and missed the sack and Bridgewater made the completion to keep the drive alive. Hamilton gets credit for getting into the backfield, but he didn’t seal the deal. 

Bureau of statistics

Here are two preseason stats with the caveat that they are preseason stats. 1). In the first halves of their two preseason games with both sides playing mostly their first- and second-team players, the Redskins have outscored the opposition 26-6. 2). The Redskins have 216 rushing yards through two games. Last year they rushed for 103 yards in their first two preseason games. 

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The agenda

Today: Off day

Upcoming: Preseason Broncos @ Redskins (Aug. 24) 7 days; Final cut (Sept. 1) 15 days; Season opener @ Cardinals (Sept. 9) 23 days

In case you missed it

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, and follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCS and on Instagram @RichTandler